The Marketing Genius Behind Nike: Greg Hoffman | E150 | Transcription

Transcription for the video titled "The Marketing Genius Behind Nike: Greg Hoffman | E150".


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Intro (00:00)

I was told that the KKK was gonna get me. And that's frightening when you're a child. - Chief marketing officer to Vice President of Global Brand, an almost three decade career at Nike. - That's right, yeah. You know, Nike was really the only brand that was putting people of color in their communication. That showed me you could make a living doing what you love. - Why is the Air Force One shoe an example of Nike not chasing cool? - It wasn't created to make a statement in culture. It was created to make a statement on the court. And the fact that Moses Malone won on the court in the Air Force One, that's cool. Your authenticity is your cultural currency. The minute your audience can no longer see your original pursuit, they partner with someone else. - April 2021, significant month for you in your life. - I got a DM through 23andMe. And that opened up meeting my birth families. The last thing you wanna be is rejected. And it was just... So without further ado, I'm Stephen Bartlett. And this is the Dyer over CEO USA edition. I hope nobody's listening, but if you are, then please keep this to yourself. - Greg, I'm a tremendous believer in the fact that our early years are incredibly formative.

Insights Into Success And Innovation

Childhood, racism and finding your voice (01:29)

What are the things that really left a remaining mark on you in terms of their influence as an experience or an event or trauma? - Yes, again, I had two passions growing up, sport and art. And really why I got involved in art and art of all sorts, whether it was drawing, painting, sculpting, is growing up as a half black, half white adopted kid into a white family going to an all white school system and experiencing lots of adversity through racism and other things. Art was the thing that I was able to essentially escape from reality and find myself in the art and that's when I started to discover that I could draw things in accurate detail. I could dream and then put that on paper and it was very powerful and it was a way for me to not only feel empowered, but also engage my imagination. And then sport as well, sport, evens the playing field, if you will. And so that was essentially the other escape where I felt like I wasn't such an outsider on that. And so I think when you experience adversity like that, when you're oftentimes the only one in the room, which I think you can relate to even today, you also look out for other outsiders. You're keeping an eye on other groups or other individuals that haven't been invited, if you will. And so you're right, I took those experiences because they never leave you, no matter how much success you have, you carry some of those chips on your shoulder, but it doesn't have to be used as a negative. And so as I maimed my way through life and found myself in positions of influence, I looked out for those individuals on that. Because again, when I grow up in the late '70s and early '80s, you were taught to not see color, right? That was that period of time, which means how can you be empathetic if your parents or those that are there to support you teachers aren't seeing what your experience is like. So I love today where that is not the case and you do need to see people for how they identify themselves to better equip and empower them to achieve their hopes and dreams. - When you're young and you're different in some way, we can all probably relate to being different in some way when we're younger, but not everybody can relate to what it feels like to be racially abused when you're young and the confusion, the inadequacy, whatever it might be that that leaves you with. Can you recall the first time someone racially abused you when you were younger? - Absolutely. I was actually in kindergarten and it started happening every day. I was told that the KKK was gonna get me. Now, I didn't know what the Ku Klux Klan, the KKK was, but I did know that I was the only person that they were saying it to. And then you'd come into school the next day and you'd hear this, the KKK is gonna get you. And that's quite frightening when you're a child, right? And you're in that situation alone and you don't necessarily have the individuals that you could talk to about it. So essentially you kind of, you bottle that up and that was the first situation. And the issue oftentimes with kids, certainly, you know, during that particular time, is you identify people through their appearance, right? On that. And for me, I just hadn't developed the voice to fight with my voice. So obviously it resulted in a lot of altercations throughout my early life, even into my teenage life. Because it took me a while to develop a voice to be able to combat that with words, right? So that was the beginning, but it didn't take long to start hearing the N word shortly thereafter. - In high school? - In grade school. - In grade school. - And so again, though I share those moments more as a way of telling people that, you know, make sure you're looking beyond what's on the surface. This gets back to great brand building. Don't just look at the assumptions and observations that we all see. You gotta look beyond that to see how people really are experiencing and feeling within their life. And you saw that come to life in some of the campaigns that I worked on, right? Stand up, speak up, campaign with Tyrion Rhee was all about fighting racism that's invisible. You can't see it, but the players are hearing it. I want this to be uplifting, but I think it's important to your point to understand where we come from and our adversity doesn't need to necessarily be something that holds us back. It can be fuel for the way we are motivated to get to those points where we're putting work out in the world or helping others so that they don't have to go through that. - You reference your art in the book as being a bit of an escape for you in the early years. What was your art? What was it? Was it design? Was it photography? What was your art? - My parents didn't have much, but they really invested in my passion for art and design. And I shared a bedroom with my two brothers, small bedroom. And so imagine three beds, and then there were three other elements in this bedroom. One was my drafting table and desk, where I drew all the time. Second was a sand-filled weightlifting set that just sat in the middle. And then finally, my parents, which is pretty innovative, they just basically left a wall white and they put a wood frame around the entire wall. And they said, "This is your mural, and you can paint or draw anything you want on it." Again, cramped space. I just want you to think about like three kids in here. So I would draw sports logos, baseball, football, hockey logos on this. This is one of my obsession with branding and the art of how powerful and how logos and symbols can connect and create so much story and emotion. And then the other thing I drew all the time was superheroes, 'cause I was obsessed with comic books and that idea of heroics and athleticism. But within that, I started to understand how your art can communicate. And through those logos and the visual communication that I saw within the world of sports started to pique my interest in doing this. And I'll take it a step further. I got really lucky when I was 15. I got a job in a warehouse at a small publishing company. Just in the warehouse after school and throughout the summer, just packing books into boxes. But I noticed that there was an art department in this place. And I'm not sure where I got the courage, but somehow I did. I went in and I said, "Hey, is it possible for me to spend part of the time in this art department and part of it in the warehouse?" You have to put yourself out there to ask. I learned that at that point and they said, "Yes." And so suddenly I was shoulder to shoulder as a 15 year old with art directors and writers and creative directors and storytellers. And then by the next year, I spent all my time in the art department. And not only in there doing menial tasks, they were having me do illustrations. They were having me do page layouts. Again, this is pre-computer. So that showed me at an early age that you could make a living doing what you love. What are you passionate about? Because up until that point, I wasn't necessarily sure how you could essentially make a living doing that. So that was kind of my earliest stage in terms of art as commerce, if you will, was within the publishing arena. But what it did do is it gave me a shortcut to start to focus on that. So by the time I got to college, I knew that I wanted to be a designer. - You knew you wanted to be a designer. - That's right. - Yeah. - And you went on and studied design at college, graduated. And then the story as I heard it is you basically get two internships post-graduation. You get a call from Nike. Nike said that they've got this urgent position. You've got to drop everything and come now and start at Nike. And that starts, I know I've skipped a process there, but that starts an almost three decade career at Nike. - That's right, yeah. - Where you moved from, what was your first role at Nike called? Do you remember? - Just a graphic design intern. - Graphic design intern to Chief Marketing Officer, to Vice President of Global Brand Innovation over almost 30 years. For me, this is remarkable for many reasons. Obviously, being involved, Nike is one of those companies in culture and in society that is more than a brand, they're more than a shoe company for many reasons, which we'll talk about. But also the really staggering thing is you stayed at a company for 30, almost 30 years. My question there is, what is it about you that made you so loyal to that company? Because a lot of people can love their job, but they still get their desire to move on and do some analysis. - Sure. - 30 years at one company, what is it about you that made you stay in terms of your character or whatever? - Yeah, I think two things. One is the, again, this incredible situation where art and sport came together, and this brand certainly mastered the art of marketing. And expressing the art that exists in sport and the art of storytelling. So I didn't have to choose. It's like, wow, you show up to this place and it's like your two passions on full display. That's number one. Two, I oftentimes told people that Nike was like miniature graduate schools because every two years, there was either a World Cup or a Summer Olympics. So imagine the transformation in terms of innovation, in terms of new athletes, in terms of new platforms and technology, in terms of how you can engage with consumers. And so not to mention what your audience is experiencing during that time in terms of how they want to engage with brands. And so I always told people, it's almost like the, it was a new, slightly new company every two years. And to be able to participate in both these, essentially restarts or revolutions, right? So that was very exciting. And then I'd say the final thing is that, by the time I was a teenager and started to see seeing Nike's commercials, Nike was really the only brand that was putting people of color in their communication. Really, you had to look really hard around the arena of companies to see anyone else doing that. And so that started instilling me, the power that this brand has to represent everyone and also in their mission statement to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete. So those are some of the factors that kept me engaged for that long, as well as, I have this Nike's original slogan was, there is no finish line, before just do it, there is no finish line. And so if you're, you know, maybe a perfectionist or you're always in pursuit of better, and even to your own detriment sometimes, right? Never satisfied, never finished. I was kind of all of those things. Oftentimes I think a lot of creators and makers are, right? So that was the other part of it, that you could always keep reaching for that next design or that next story. And the company's expectations were just as high of you as itself, you know? And what's great about Nike, and certainly the Nike I grew up with is complacency was the enemy of creativity. So there was no sitting back, right? It's kind of that forward lean, just like in athletics. So that's just a few of the aspects I think that just created that longevity and loyalty. - Brands, companies, teams, they over time learn what's making them successful and mean further and further into that.

What makes Nike successful? (15:19)

I swear I'm wondering, in your 30 years at Nike, what did you see Nike realize while you were there and lean more into in terms of the values of the organization, how it operates from a marketing perspective, a culture perspective or whatever? Do you understand what I'm trying to say? - Sure. Well, first and foremost, I think, and I'm a brand advisor now with established brands and startups. And what Nike had from the beginning is such a clear brand house, if you will. Its belief, its mission, its vision, its values. Where are you going? How are you gonna get there? What do you believe? What's your promise to your audience? And what are the characteristics and traits that compose your brand in that pursuit to deliver inspiration and innovation to everyone? And so imagine the power of that in terms of everyone is clear as they walk through the door to show up to work, why they're there. And I say this because a lot of brands can't say that. A lot of startups haven't even got there yet because they're just trying to perfect their product and get it to market. And so first and foremost, this idea that authenticity and serving the athlete is the anchor at all times. So even though you're trying to be maybe the most influential and coolest brand on earth, you know, and there's an art to doing that, you always have to go back and ensure that it serves the athlete in the deepest way possible. And that's why, you know, maybe we'll get to this later, but I always use that mantra, don't chase cool because most likely you're not gonna catch it. And that idea that your authenticity in terms of what I've learned over and over again keep going back to, your authenticity is your cultural currency. The minute your audience can no longer see your original pursuit and every company's a bit different is the day they kind of leave you and go engage and partner with someone else. - That's in part because you've left yourself, right? In the pursuit of cool, you've abandoned your authenticity. You talk about that in chapter six of your book Emotion by Design, which is out now, you talk about the Air Force One in that chapter as an example of success in that realm. So why is the Air Force One shoe an example of Nike not chasing cool? - Well, first and foremost, it's an innovation that was created in 1982 that was created to serve the basketball athlete, right? It wasn't created to make a statement in culture. It was created to make a statement on the court and the designer was obsessed with creating something that gave that athlete an advantage. And it's really hard to create, if you want any chance for a product to ultimately become a cultural icon, if you will. And by the way, brands don't get to decide that, your audience does over time. Then you must, the inception and creation of that product has to start with what's the benefit that you're trying to deliver? What's the problem you're trying to solve? So that's part one and the fact that someone like Moses Malone, who was a center for the Philadelphia 76ers at the time, won on the court in the Air Force One. So that's cool. That's proving that innovation right out of the gates. And so from there, as it grew in stature, what was great about all the teens that played a role across all the different disciplines at Nike to bring this to market every year, is all of the storytelling was rooted in authenticity. This colorway came from this basketball court. This colorway was from this New York outdoor court and this player scored X amount of points. The stories are rooted in emotion, and you as an enthusiast for this sneaker got to take part in a little bit of that. And as I talk about in the book, at some point, stories no longer belong only to the brand. They get passed down. And so the Air Force One is interesting because this year again, it was the highest selling sneaker out there. And so it's very accessible. And yet it's also, you could argue, the most culturally relevant sneaker as well. And so it's aspirational. And so my point is that's by design. You're ensuring that there's a level of the authentic storytelling and that those that you are partnering with, the ambassadors, if you will, that show up in your communication on that, have a real connection and affinity for the Air Force One. Just like Kendrick Lamar grew up with the Nike Cortez sneaker. Very real relationship with the shoe that's very much a part of LA. And so when we partnered with Kendrick Lamar, it's coming from a shared passion. And that authenticity comes through to your audience. When it doesn't, that's when it feels like you're chasing cool. And so I always say, just make sure your connections are really, really clear to your audience in terms of who you partner with. What is the real purpose of your product? Beyond all the shiny new partnerships and other things you can do, you still have to kind of go back to its roots. - An example of where a brand has not done that well. Can you think of a couple, top of them? Well, for some reason I thought of that Pepsi advert. I know it was a tragedy for so many reasons, but when they got one of those Kardashians to kind of hold the Pepsi can in that social justice scene, that riot scene, you couldn't as an audience member understand why that Kardashian was stood there apparently as the cure to a social justice issue holding a kind of, it all felt disjointed and authentic. - Yeah, because you have to be able to connect what you sell to what the world needs in a specific moment when it comes to social impact or social justice. So whether you're a food and beverage company or an automobile company, a sneaker company, if you want to participate in that conversation and break down barriers and empower people or change the way people feel about a particular issue, it's for Nike you have to speak through the lens of sport. That's the connection, right? And I think when you see a brand maybe miss, sometimes you might be watching TV and you'll see an ad and it's clear that this, whoever this brand is that they are trying to create positive change in the world, but you can't figure it out and it's not until the end that you see the logo. You're like, okay, I don't get the connection. And so the point is, is like you have to start by saying, is what's happening in this situation relate to our values and our mission. And then if it does, what new unique insight are we bringing to the conversation that's not already being talked about? And then finally, the other thing Steven is, is because I think sometimes the default is we need to say something as a brand. When there are so many other ways that you can engage and be a part of the conversation, right? And just look at what Epic Games did in terms of taking the revenue from Fortnite over a period of time and making donations to Ukraine relief. They didn't do an ad, but they found a way that was authentic to them to create an opportunity that's gonna help a lot of people in a really tough situation right now. So that's the thing. When I'm talking to brands, it's like, that's just number one, it's like storytelling isn't always the example advertising in terms of social impact statements. And part one and part two, you must ensure that what you wanna say clearly comes through who you are as a brand and what you bring into the world. That's why I say connect what you sell with what the world needs. If you can't do that, then most likely you need to think about kind of moving into a different arena. So those are, when I see something maybe that's tone deaf or it's not, it's usually because it's just simply not on brand and it's confusing to your audience. - Much of the things we'll talk about, I'm sure, are independent by a topic you talk about in the book in chapter two, which is teams and culture.

How to create a winning work culture (24:50)

That kind of underpins everything. You referenced how when people walk in the door at Nike that it's quite clear that there's a, they have clarity of culture in terms of why they're there and what they're doing there, et cetera. - You were at Nike for almost 30 years, had a lot of people work underneath you. You observe that organization from various perspectives. How does one build a culture that wins on its objective and how does someone keep that culture and police it and protect it from scale and harm and, yeah? - Yeah, no, it's a great point because creative collaboration is unique because oftentimes creativity and innovation is a very personal pursuit, right? It can get pretty territorial. You've spent a lot of time on this and you want insurance essentially that you get credit and so a lot of what you're doing is trying to instill both self-confidence and self-awareness so that and you're trying to eliminate kind of the silos and independent kind of studios, if you will. I was given this awesome opportunity to run all the creative functions at Nike, you know? Here's the coolest, most influential brand and so my job was to take advertising and digital marketing and brand design and event marketing and retail, take all these groups that had worked independently for quite some time where the integration took a lot of work with really long passes and I used this example frequently and I'm sure it drove my team's crazy but I used FC Barcelona as an example of radical creative collaboration, you know? Their style of play, the tikki-taka, it's all those short passes. There's no waiting. Everybody's moving around the field at the same time and I would show the team these clips of this, you know, Pep Guardiola's FC Barcelona team passing the ball 40, 50, 60 times in a game in a row without interruption, okay? And how does that happen? It's because you could say radical selflessness, right? The goal is to literally, the pursuit is still to put the goal in the net. You need the buy-in and my job was to make sure that I was there with the empathy needed to recognize the contributions of everybody but to also ask people to make the sacrifice so that we could run faster, be more timely, create more distinctive work and ultimately as things are going, the consumer expects everything in their life to be connected, right? The last thing they would wanna hear about is that there are these really long handoffs between agencies and brands and departments and that's why the work is kind of disjointed. You can't have that. You'll lose your consumers. So part of it is it was creating this connected team, this one team that operated with great chemistry just like the greatest teams in the world on that. And maybe one other piece to that was this idea of individuality and so for that, and again, I'm telling you, I'm sure there's folks out there that got tired of seeing my parallels with the sport of football. But the Brazil national team was a team that I had this 25 year relationship with starting as an intern, right? And what's great about the Brazil national team is that they played with the Zhinga style, which means to sway. And Zhinga is the influences of that style of play, comes from capoeira, Brazilian martial arts and samba. But it emphasized the individual eccentricities of the players. We've all watched Brazil over the years. We've been enthralled by them and sometimes they drive us a bit mad because maybe there's a bit of disorganization. But at the end of the day, they've won five world cups more than any other team. And that's because they value the diversity and the perspective and experience and expertise of each individual player. And so yes, there's structure to that team. Yes, there's an expectation that there's a level of precision, but they allow improv, they allow spontaneity to reveal opportunity throughout those games. And that's why oftentimes anywhere you go in the world, it's someone's second favorite team beyond the club that they support. And so that was another point of inspiration that I use to lead these massive teams, right? You're talking about just the scale of Nike in terms of the output of creative around the world. You needed to still have a high degree of operational excellence to run something like that. But I wanted to make sure that you were incentivized to take risks. You had the space to be able to present ideas that may not be on the plan. And you had a receptive executive team that was willing to hear from you. And that's why there's so many examples of the book of work that wasn't briefed, of work that was just a conversation with a couple people who were empowered to visualize that idea and then put it out in the world. Many of them ideas that had great scale and are still around today. So that's just a little insight in terms of how I looked at building that chemistry. How did you incentivize risk or disincentivize risk aversion?

How do you incentivize risk? (31:07)

- It's a great call. And again, I'm still figuring it out because think about it. You're asking individuals right brain and left brain thinkers to essentially, you're saying, I said this often, we're gonna develop four different concepts this quarter. And they're gonna be outside of our normal workload because again, we have to deliver the business front and center, we can't get distracted from that. But alongside of that, we're gonna visualize and prototype for ideas, but you know what? Only one of them probably will have a chance. So that's not for everyone, right? Oftentimes people only wanna work on things that have almost 100% certainty of finding their way in the world. And I had to condition everyone to ensure that they were comfortable taking the big swings and part of that is seeing the end results. Like again, let's look at the last two years. You see this particular concept that is now in 500 stores around the world. You know, it's one example, but the house of Hoops example, we had a conversation about how could we create a store specific to basketball that had the same level of passion and energy that a kid's room would have if they loved basketball. You go into a kid's room, they would have posters and so much inspiration and objects and pictures that really express their passion. And yet how come you go into a store oftentimes and it might just be shoes on a wall and you're not feeling the story and the legacy of that. And so rendering that up and knowing that in three days you could have an audience with the president of the company. And not only that, you could get a go-no-go that quickly of well, let's try this concept in the wild and then lo and behold, in less than two years, you have 300 of those stores around the world. So all you need is a couple of those examples to say, okay, well, I'd like to participate in that. And I buy into this idea that not everything we're gonna do is gonna make it. But why I say that I'm still trying to figure it out is it is hard to convince some people that failure is what leads to success. That, and if I can use this example, it's not in the book, but it's literally my favorite commercial ad of all time. And it's Michael Jordan's "9,000 Shots." And amazing commercial from 1997. And the widening Kennedy agency sat down with him and learned that Michael had missed 9,000 shots 26 times he was asked to take the game-winning shot and he missed. And he said, "Yet I've failed over and over again, but that's why I succeed." And that's the spirit of risk-taking in the innovation space. You need to take the shot 'cause even if you miss it, success will come down the road. And so that's what I tried in still with my team. - Quick one, we bring in eight people a month to watch these conversations live here in the studio when we're here in the UK and when we're in LA. If you wanna be one of those people, all you've gotta do is hit subscribe. - Chapter three of your book, the title is Never Play It, Save Play to Win, which is very much in line with what you're talking about there.

Necessity sparks innovation (34:56)

And I think one of the more interesting concepts, which was mentioned in the book, which I could really relate to was how you say that some of Nike's boldest ideas came when the team had no time or resources. And actually that's really what founded my company, to be honest, 'cause we ran out of money. So all of the conventional marketing channels were out of budgets. So we were left to figure something else out. And that's when we started thinking about social media in 2012. And it was free, we could put time in and get a big return. And off we went and that started my company, which now ended up making $700 million or whatever it is this year, it'll make. And that was when we ran out of money, our best ideas came. So when I read that, I thought, oh, this is interesting. - So, so true. So often, and also I put a timeline in a budget, or lack of budget, but a strict timeline can be amazing. - Right. - Do you always do timelines? I was gonna ask you that as well. Do you always make sure projects have timelines? - Not necessarily, but I like to put a timeline on how quickly you visualize a conversation. - Okay. - That is, I can't say this enough. And if I have one suggestion to smaller brands or even startups as they're starting to expand, it's like when you have a conversation, like either build internally or have a relationship with an agency that can take your conversations and the ideas you have and quickly visualize them in a visceral way. So, and you've heard it before, a picture says a thousand words. And the problem oftentimes with businesses that maybe are a bit bureaucratic is you and I could have a conversation about a cool idea. And then three months go by and we see each other again, it's like, you know, what happened to that idea? I don't know. Well, no one took ownership of it, one. And two, I would walk out of those conversations over and over again. I'd walk over to the visualization team, and I said, let's come back to the team, let's surprise them in three days with either an image or a short GIF or a film or even oftentimes an app prototype that was working. If I didn't do that, then more often than not, you might forget that the conversations ever happened. So, I went on that tangent just to say, I think it's incredibly effective, these brands, large and small, that have visualization capability and that everyone understands why that's a competitive advantage. And so many of the concepts that were brought to life in this book, you know, came out of the speed at which we brought the idea to life. It wasn't, well, our agency's too busy. So maybe two months from now, we can talk to them about, you know, this new NFT idea we have. No, it's like, how about start to riff on some of those ideas so that you're first to play in that sector, on that? So I guess, and maybe if I can just, you know, there's one story in this book, which was the Ronaldinho, one of my favorite footballers of all time. But yeah, we were launching a new boot and there was no time and quite frankly, there really wasn't a budget or it wasn't talked about, right? But born out of this urgency was this very resourceful approach to storytelling, which was to shoot Ronaldinho with a video camera essentially, getting these new soccer boots, football boots on the pitch and then proceeding to do that old game that we all played growing up of crossbar where you're sitting kind of, you know, just under midfield and you're trying to kick the ball and hit that top of the crossbar. Only in this video, Ronaldinho is able to do it, you know, two, three different times without the ball hitting the ground and I'll leave it to the audience to figure out if it was real or not. The point is is that, you know, and not only did we not have time, but there was a young platform that had just started to emerge called YouTube. And yeah, the team dropped this particular video of Ronaldinho on the platform. And lo and behold, it becomes the first brand film to reach a million views, right? And quite frankly, all because there was no money, no time and the team had to be unbelievably resourceful to create something that would make people wanna watch. And that gets back to emotion by design. I wanna emphasize this is that I think the best brands ask the question, how do I want this work to make the consumer feel about themselves and make them feel empowered to go and do great things? Does the work kind of engage in stir emotions in that way where people feel that they can go out and do it or not? Does it create indifference or because like, look, there's, and I'm not saying the speed at which we're having conversations now with between brands and audiences is in real time. And you're not gonna be able to create everything as a hit. You know, there's not enough time, money, et cetera. But you should have someone in the room that's representing your brand's story. That's representing the emotional qualities that can be released through your work. 'Cause if that person isn't in the room and it's just someone looking at it as content that needs to be distributed, that's not very human. The stronger the emotional connections, the bigger status your brand is gonna have, most likely in culture. And therefore, the more opportunities you would have to step beyond the business to have a real impact in the world on some of the most pressing issues of our time. So I do believe there's a process to achieving that. - To create a strong emotional connection with someone else, I'm presuming you have to take a strong emotional stance yourself often.

Creating emotional connections (41:34)

So I'm just thinking about the things that have revoked the strongest emotional connections with anything I do. The things that have provoked the strongest emotional connections with this podcast and its audience are strong emotional stories. But that, when you do that, when you avoid indifference, you are putting yourself in line for potential criticism and attacks and you're gonna polarize people. That's right. That people are gonna love and hate you. How important has that been for Nike? And how important is it for a person starting a podcast or a business or leading a team or whatever else? - For a brand like Nike, it was, you know, look at the athletes that represented the brand early on. I mean, they were all rebels, you know, within their own sports. And so, you know, this idea of, and, you know, having a maximum within the company that was defy convention, right? So your values kind of say it's like, yeah, there are gonna be things we do with conviction that may be polarizing, but it is the deep belief we have in those things. And as long as we always relate them back to sport and this idea of, you know, serving the athlete, then we're willing to go there. And if we're not clearly tethered to, you know, what we say and what we do, then we would deserve the critique and the criticism. So I think you can, for any smaller large company that's kind of, you know, that's wrestling with this, that maybe wants to kind of go beyond just the transactions and truly move into that arena where you really are having real relationships with your audience, that their affinity for you comes from the fact that they're getting meaningful benefits, whether those are mental or physical, that are allowing them to progress in life, you know? When you reach that status, I believe indifference isn't an option right now. I believe we need to look to brands that have that level of success. And again, it's not about scale 'cause there's plenty of small brands, you know, mom and pop brands that are doing great things through their business to affect the lives of people under served communities. But again, so much of what we're talking about is authenticity, even doing this book, it's like, well, you know, how much social media should I do on this platform? Does that seem like I'm inauthentic? And like, so at the end of the day, 'cause I drive in people crazy with these questions, is that 'cause, you know, I'm not the most public person, right? But as long as I speak to from the center and the anchor of the power of creativity in business and its ability to change the world and make that connection clear, and that if people are pissed off about that, then it is what it is. But more often than not, look at some of the most successful brands and it's made their own business successful. It's accelerated their growth. And so that's where I get into this, you know, yeah, our primary goal, certainly for a public company, is to drive growth, both from a brand and business standpoint. But more and more, I believe that within that, you have to integrate this, you know, being a great corporate citizen and using your platform to, you know, provide your innovation and your inspiration to those that quite frankly, don't have the access and opportunity to get it. How do I find which story to tell?

Finding the right story & branding to make your business succeed (45:41)

Because if I'm running this podcast and I'm thinking, okay, I need to do the logo, the brand, I need to position it in a way that's gonna be, this is typically the way the brain thinks. It's trying, the outcome is success. And it's trying to figure out which story to tell to get me to success. So how do I make this podcast successful? How do you go about knowing where and how to find that story in your business brand team, whatever it is, and which one is the right one to tell, to get the outcome I'm looking for, which is success? - The success to me is that it's not overly packaged. The success to me is that the transparency and authenticity of the conversations and that there's a rawness to it. And that is branding. Sometimes it's the lack of design, if you will, is the very thing that makes something successful. - I'm sorry. - Versus there's, there's a, you know, there's go to, it's always the same questions. And so that's the one thing I really appreciate about what you're doing is, again, back to this, this being human as a, being human and creating emotion. And part of that is just so that people can, you know, see themselves and you or us. And the, yeah, I mean, that's what I say. It's less about sometimes the traditional aspects of branding, which is, I wanna make sure the frame of every podcast has the color gold and it must, you know, so, and again, I'm saying this as someone who's oftentimes been pretty rigid in terms of, to grow some of these businesses, to own a brand color, if you will. And you pick your favorite brand. There's a level of repetition needed to build that kind of equity in a typeface, in a color, in a logo. You need to build that brand frame, right? Oftentimes startups almost skip that. It's like, no, go back. It's like really build your brand identifiers, your brand elements, right? 'Cause that's your picture frame. And the stronger the picture frame, the more the picture in it is gonna shine. The weaker that frame, then the picture within it is kind of, it's just, it's not on a solid ground, if that makes sense. And so that's why in the book, I talk about the picture and the frame, and ensuring that the frame never outshines the picture. That's what I'm getting at, is like, when you're thinking about brand elements and how best to express those through the different platforms, it's the right question, but making sure that they don't take away from the actual storytelling within it, which is the picture. - Yeah, which happens a lot. - For me, so some things that we do intentionally to try and communicate the, I guess the heart of what we're doing on this podcast, for example, in the branding. So one of the things is we always make sure it feels like home. - Yeah. - So it's in, whether in LA or in London, it's actually shot in my actual kitchen. On a very similar looking table, people are actually surprised it looks exactly the same, but we always shoot it at home because I think the conversations we're having are at the only ones, they're the ones people have at home. They're not ones that we could go to this in a massive studio, but it wouldn't be in line with our values. The other thing is it's dark in here. So that speaks to the subject matter. Sometimes it speaks to secrets. The other thing is obviously the title of the podcast is the diary of a CEO and you ask yourself what one might keep in a diary. It tends to be things that are a little bit deeper. And there's all these small things. We even, I mean, we spend many days this week me and Jack debating removing the microphones because it kills what the humanness of authentic communication. So we're thinking about ways where we can have the microphones hanging, where we can remove barrier. And all these small things, I guess, is that the frame? Or when you think about brand elements, you're talking more about like colors and things like that. No, I think that's the frame as well. When I walk into a space, I'm a bit obsessive compulsive about design and details. And I walk in and I look at the carpet and what type of chairs and like the display case and what are the objects, whether I go into a restaurant or the hotel I stayed in last night. And I'm soaking all that up, but that isn't the actual experience. That isn't the actual story. You're revealing the story of this podcast through all these elements, but that's still the story frame and is where I'm going. And then the delivery of, you know, through your voice and these conversations is what sits within it. But yes, those identifiers, those brand elements, play a huge role because every one of them, I guess what I'm saying, what I like about when I walked in is it's like everything was considered. There was nothing arbitrary because what a mess for some brands, large and small, when they don't have a culture that cares deeply about those details. And I think the best ones do. And certainly when you think of some of the most successful fashion brands, like, you know, there's just an ethic inside that any detail large or small will be intentional. So, you know, that's designed, you know, motion by design, the word design is really about intention, be intentional and look to reveal something about yourself through this round table, you know, with the marble top. It's like, it all communicates. Trust me, I drive my wife and my kids absolutely mad, right? Because they've had to live with this guy who's just constantly moving stuff around and, you know, is the clock, is the bookcase like, you know, curated perfectly are the books in the right. So, if I have a problem, it's in some ways that it's, I've, I'm, you know, searching for perfection too often. And what can happen is you start to strip the soul and personality out of something. And it's been great that I've had people throughout my career to balance that. That's back to this idea of creative tension. Like, if there's a two startup founders, you know, it's, I love it when it's someone's, it's someone represents the art and someone represents the science, you know, someone's more analytical in their decision-making process. And others may be a little bit more non-linear, maybe a little bit more right-brain thinking. And I love that tension because when you don't have that, it's like one side starts to kind of creep up. And that's why I got into, you know, I'm also the branding instructor at the University of Oregon's Graduate School of Business. And these are, you know, I'm in front of mainly folks that want to become future GMs, entrepreneurs, product developers, you name it, right? And, but I'm there to say it's like, you know, yes, we're going to go through how you create a brand plan and a brand strategy, we're going to do this, but you're also going to work on brand identity. And don't worry about if you can't, if you don't think you're creative because that's, I just, that kills me when I hear that. The application of creativity, yes, it's oftentimes reserved for people that have created a fluency through experience and education, whether it's an architect, a coder, et cetera. But the creation, the inception of an idea, we can all participate in that. Like the brainstorming of an idea, we can all participate 'cause what happens oftentimes is people say, well, I can't draw, I'm not creative. And it's like, well, that's only part of the equation. You know, I've done, I don't know, a couple hundred, I've led a couple hundred brainstorm sessions over the years, big and small. And I've never said at the beginning of the brainstorm session, I want all the non-creative people to leave the room right now 'cause we're gonna start to concept and be creative. No, it's, again, it's right and left-brain thinkers working together to conceive great things. - I'm really compelled by, and I talked to my team a lot about this, about this, and you've mentioned it twice now, this importance of details.

Attention to detail (55:03)

From your tharias of Nike, how did you make sure teams cared about the detail? Is it just continually reminding them? Is there something else we can do to make sure that our teams and the people we work with and ourselves even are really valuing the smallest of details? - Yeah, I do believe in publishing, whether it's, you wanna call it an ethos, a manifesto, a set of principles, where you clearly articulate what your design standards are, or your creative standards. I've always believed that, and they can change over time, but I'm a big believer in publishing thought, publishing ideals that you have. And I'll go even further because what I learned over the years is I was doing a little bit too much self-authorship when I really started to manage teams, I'd go away and I'd come back and it's like here's the six principles of obsessing the details that we're gonna focus on this year, but I didn't involve them in authoring those. So it's like publish what you believe, invite folks into the process that have maybe slightly different opinions than you do, and then complete this, build the consensus, and then make sure everyone has it so that clearly as you drive down the road and you're looking at restaurant architecture, business building architecture, it's pretty clear that people just decided like it was good enough, and no one will ever, who cares if it's gonna win or no? The point isn't to win awards, the point is to take something as far as you can, to contribute something great to society, whether it is a building or a book or this bottle design, the amount of thought that went into that, I think that's the typeface Helvetica, I believe, and the choices made to go upper and lower case, that's all intentional, to have it black on white, the name human fuel. - Yeah, and that's the thing, I mean you have to start with naming, right? When one of the hardest pursuits is naming a product or naming a company because it's such a crowded space, but man, if you get the name right, it will save you millions in marketing. - So if I was to ask you now, and I used to say, right, I have a team of 100,000 people and I want them to be great marketers, but we're only allowed to give them three guiding principles, which they will take with them.

Advice to become a successful marketer (57:51)

These can just be philosophies, ideas, whatever, but we can only give them three guiding principles to hope to make them successful. What would those top three guiding principles be? - I'll start with the three characteristics that I would say, it's like, "We're gonna have the dominant traits of empathy, curiosity, and let's call it courage or risk taking." Like those three traits is what we're gonna be known for. And for empathy, to me, within the marketing process is the principle that I talk about in the book is see what others see, find what others don't. The best marketing teams and the best communication teams are able to peel back the layers, get under the surface of a human being, a city or a community, and find the deeper insight or truth that resides there. And then they reveal it through storytelling. It's back to the Michael Jordan example. How many more ads could you do about him dunking a basketball? So empathy is like, go deeper, whether you're designing a product, it's like, you're revealing the true problem that needs to be solved. You're not just observing some behavior and making a hypothesis off that. You're actually spending the time to go deeper and deeper into that. And that's that idea of see what others see, find what others don't. Curiosity is that idea of getting outside yourself because it's one thing to have the insight, right? And the problem that you're gonna solve and you're clear on that. But now you need to reveal it to the world. And oftentimes you need points of inspiration coming into the process. And that's why you look at Nike Air, probably the greatest innovation in the history of sneakers, right? Air, airbags and air cushioning and sneakers. Well, that came from an engineer at NASA who was experimenting with creating an innovation for astronaut helmets, for space exploration. And he brought that to Nike and that led to Nike Air. That's my point about find inspiration outside of your sector. And that's that idea of bringing the outside in. So that's the curiosity thing, outside get outside yourself. And then finally, is that idea of, we don't play it safe, we play to win. We're not comfortable with the status quo. And we want people comfortable kind of pursuing what's next, not just getting complacent and delivering products, services, stories in the way everyone else is. So we also wanna be a team that is obsessive about every aspect of branding, you know? And so think of how powerful that can become is if you have a team and that they're deeply empathetic to who they serve. Like they get great at learning and asking questions. They're unbelievable, unbelievably curious and always looking beyond what's in front of them to see what else they can, 'cause so much of innovation is about transference. You take something from here, you bring it into your sector and you change the game. And then the risk-taking thing is not feeling like you have a team that has to ask for permission to use their imagination. I think that's really important. Because if you develop a culture where people have to ask to think, people have to get approval, then I don't believe you would be known as a leading innovator in your space on that. So those are just a few, but I just think it's also, I'll tell you this, when I was CMO, I did an informal poll with the marketing leaders. And I'm biased, of course, but I felt and I believe this is the best marketing team in the world. I said, what are the top two characteristics you look for in any marketer that you're interviewing for a particular job within the Nike marketing team? And the top two traits that came to the top from everybody was curiosity and collaborative. I mean to a person. And it was kind of tied. I want someone who's always searching for inspiration and is curious about their teammates, about the consumer, about technology, entertainment, art, and then I want someone who can play with others, right? And that you can feel that sense that this person is has conviction, believes in themselves but can play within a team. And those were the two that rose to the top. And I think that's true today. - Quick one. I just wanted to share a fantastic initiative from one of my podcast sponsors. For those of you that are looking to grow your business online, right now you can get 200 pounds of social media advertising paid for by Vodafone Business when you sign up to three unlimited mobile plans. Social media has a huge impact on your business. If I had to start my business again from scratch right now, the first thing I would do is produce content daily at a high cadence. The thing that grew my company so fast was producing content on social media platforms. It helps your company become known and builds your digital reputation/personal brand. If you've not ventured into the space of social media or social media advertising before, don't worry. Vodafone Business will also provide the knowledge, support and tips you need in creating a plan all through Vodafone V-Hub. To find out more and how I'd spend that 200 pounds that Vodafone are giving, search Vodafone Digital Boost, and obviously terms and conditions apply. April 2021.

Finding out about your biological family (01:04:39)

Significant month for you in your life? Does it ring a bell? - Yeah, absolutely, yes. I was sitting at home actually reading The New York Times, an actual newspaper, remember those? You don't. And yeah, I got a DM through 23andMe. I had done the 23andMe thing. - What was 23andMe for anybody that doesn't? - Yeah, so you submit your DNA and it's along with It gives you kind of your family tree. You can figure out others that have joined 23andMe if you're related to them. And a variety of other things in terms of what you might be susceptible for from a medical standpoint or other. And so, as an adoptee and growing up, not knowing who my parents were or who my families were, having lots of questions my whole life, but basically I got into the point where it is what it is and I'm just moving on with my life, right? So I'm sitting around and I get this DM and through 23andMe. And I usually just ignore those because sometimes it's like, hey, you have a predisposition to like a bread crust. I mean, you get these emails, right? And it's like, oh, great, another 23andMe notice. But I look and this note says, wow, I had no idea I had an uncle on this or in life. And so I looked at it and then I looked at the name and I went to, as you do, I went to Facebook, right? And I looked this person up and I was like, whoa. So the person went to my high school. The person was also a graphic designer, which was what I got a degree in, they had a degree. And as we did, my wife and I did a little bit more sleuthing, it turned out that this wasn't my niece, this was my sister. And this meant that her mom was, you know, not my sister, her mom was my mom. And so, wow, that was a lot, right? And that opened up an unbelievable door over the last year of meeting my birth families. And for the first time, being able to answer questions like, why do I look the way I do? Why do I have this, why is my voice the way it is? And why do I have certain characteristics or passions? And as I dove deeper into it, you know, two things started to unfold. One is the amount of art and design practice going back generations on both sides, right? Not to mention my sister, you know, as a graphic designer. My birth mom was a long time flight attendant, but was spent all of her downtime at art museums from around the world. My birth grandmother was a painter, right? And there was art and design on my father's side. But kind of going back to where we started this conversation, right, about race and search for identity and not necessarily growing up with the black experience, at least the positive one, and to come all the way to today and have spent the last year diving very deep into my African-American heritage, going all the way back pre-Civil American Civil War. And just, I can't tell you what a life bonus this has been. I can't put a dollar amount on it to be able to start to put the pieces together for the first time. Because up until now, you're manufacturing a lot of that as someone who's adopted, right? And so, yeah, it's just been an amazing run. They don't all, you know, reuniting with birth families doesn't, you know, the percentages aren't always high, that is gonna be a positive one. And in this case, everyone has been just, I mean, unbelievably generous with their time, thoughtful. And I have, I could put together a museum of all the objects and pictures and memorabilia from the generations of these families, you know, now. And it's just been amazing. And I wanted to make sure I captured some of that in the book to honor them as well. And I wanna say something too, it's like to learn that your grandfather was the only black man in his graduating class in college in 1955. Can you imagine what that was like in America in 1955 to be the only black person? Let alone, there was no women in that class. So, yeah, I just look at that. And I start to feel where some of my drive to create things that stand out, do things a bit differently. And now I have a backstop, if you will, a history that maybe I didn't get to draw from in the past. - You must have first met your and got to hug your biological mother. What was that day like? - Yeah, I mean, it's, again, you're talking about a time but my birth parents were 17 when they had me. And you've got two kids, one's black, one's white in Minnesota in 1970. That's just not acceptable. You can imagine, right, in high school. So, and my birth mom had to go live in a home as you did as a teenager if you got pregnant and to have me and then had to give me up, okay. So, and then keeps that a secret her whole life until that day when her daughter said, I have to ask you something, you know? I know I have a brother. So, two months later, after lots of discussions kind of getting comfortable getting to know, I, we fly out there and yeah, I mean, it's as you're, I'm trying to play cool 'cause that's me, always trying to be, you know, cool about things. And, but really it's just like, how's this gonna go? I mean, 'cause the last thing you wanna be is rejected but now that you've crossed that point, there's, this is a new experience that you've never had. So, what's great that my birth mom did is I, as we parked and we met like at a park on a lake with, is she just can't, 'cause I didn't know if I could make the first move but she came running up and just gave me a big hug. We didn't even say anything. And that was the beginning of the first time I saw her in person and it was just, yeah, I mean, you know, it's just, I'll be honest, I'm a happier person. So, you know, and it's not that I was, I've gotten so much, so much. I have such a wonderful family and kids and such an amazing career and having the opportunity to share it with everybody but to experience this at this stage of my life is just, I mean, it's just amazing. - Thank you. It's been a real honor and, you know, you've inspired me tremendously for so many reasons and you've been a real sort of affirming and reaffirming for reading your book, "Emotion by Design" has taught me a lot of the things that I did write and I didn't even know I did write and then a lot of the things I definitely could have done better in certain areas of my life. And even, you know, I can say, I'm almost 30 years old as a marketeer but you've illuminated certain things that I don't think people talk about enough, especially considering the way that the world is heading. And it's, and how, you know, creativity is being sometimes talked about in a secondary sense to things like AI and data and we're losing the human in things but not just in marketing, in the world as well. There's an optimization of our lives driven by data which is sacrificing the love and the art and the beauty of what it is to be a human. And that's also the broader point that I got from the book is, and from you today is the importance of not losing that. And yeah, we do have a closing tradition on this podcast which is the previous guest leaves a question for the next guest.

Closing Questions

Our last guest’s question (01:14:21)

Is there something right now that you know you're doing wrong but you haven't fixed yet? If so, how will you get unstuck? Wow. Now we're going deep. The election in America in 2016 really damaged the relationship with my parents, my parents who adopted me because I'm, you know, obviously being, you can see through the work that I'm very much, you know, on the left if someone wanted to, you know, categorize me as such and I think you could categorize my parents maybe on the right and just through all the, just the divisiveness of America and the division between political parties as well as, you know, the citizens of America. Unfortunately, that is where my own family went, right? Because I don't share those values. And so it's not right right now. And I'm not one to allow something to just, you know, not be fixed. So while I don't have the answers to that, I can say, and I'm revealing maybe too much about my life because on the one hand I've met my birth families and I have these two new families I'm really enjoying and engaging with. And then on the other side, I need to figure out how to get beyond the politics that exists today back to this idea of getting past the ideology to have, you know, to go back to why we're connected in the first place through emotion, you know. And so I'm gonna see everybody in another month and just try to create a different type of, you know, relationship that is respectful on both sides. So I don't know if that fully answers the question. - You have it perfectly on the question. - But it's a hell of a thing. What's happened, you know, over the last four or five years and how it's what started within politics just kind of moved into families. And in some cases it's broken them up over, you know, political views and such. So it's less about me being right or others being right. It's just trying to find like what is the common kind of, you know, cause that we can kind of at least agree on that. - So perfectly answered and very important topic that people don't talk about enough because I think a lot of families will relate to that division, especially generationally, right? So kids and their parents don't tend to be part of the same left, right values. And I guess there's empathy needed because someone said to me one day, which I've never forgotten, which is if you were them, you would be making the decisions and believe what they believed. And it's a really simple concept, but it's one that strikes empathy into me. So I've had like a bit of a falling out with my mum lately. And it's because of something, you know, in my view, it's the way she behaves in it, whatever. And just coming back to that point of like, well, if I was my mum and I'd been born in Nigeria and I'd had the experiences of racism that she had growing up and then moving to the UK, I think the only black woman in a village called Plymouth in the UK having a car burn and all of these, the things that have made her so bitter. If I was her, I would be doing exactly what she's doing. Even, and her son doesn't like what she's doing, but if I was her and I'd had her brain, her genetics, her experiences, I would be doing the same thing. And for me, that kind of has created an empathy which allows me to try and keep building the bridge in an extended relationship branch. - Yeah, you make a great point. And I think like you, I never won it. I would see, I would hear about these estranged relationships where people didn't talk family members for years. I was like, well, that's never gonna be me. But you can fall into it, especially when there's, in the, there's polarizing things happening in the world to your point where there's bound to be generational differences in terms of the eyes you look through. So, but that's also good advice that you have there. It does get back to empathy and practicing what I preach. - Thank you, Greg. - Thank you. - Appreciate it. - As you might know, crafted one of the sponsors of this podcast and crafted are a jewelry brand, and they make really meaningful pieces of jewelry. And this piece by crafted, when I put it on, for me, it represents courage, it represents ambition. It represents being calm and loving and respectful and nurturing, while also being the antithesis of that, seemingly the antithesis of that, which is sometimes a little bit aggressive with my goals and determined and courageous and brave. The really wonderful thing about crafted jewelry is it's super affordable. It looks amazing. The pieces hold tremendous meaning, and they are really well made.

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